Beyond This Horizon

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Beyond This Horizon is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It was originally published as a two-part serial in Astounding Science Fiction (April, May 1942, under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald) and then as a single volume by Fantasy Press in 1948.

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The novel depicts a world where genetic selection for increased health, longevity, and intelligence has become so widespread that the unmodified "control naturals" are a carefully managed and protected minority. Dueling and the carrying of arms is a socially accepted way of maintaining civility in public; a man can wear distinctive clothing to show his unwillingness to duel, but this results in a lower social status. The world has become an economic utopia; the "economic dividend" is so high that work has become optional. The chief economic problem is in fact using up the economic surplus: many high-quality goods actually cost less than those of lower quality. Many people use lower-quality goods as status symbols. The government invests heavily in scientific research, but this has the side-effect of further increasing productivity a decade or more later, so long-term projects with no expected economic return are favored above anything but medical research, on the theory that longer lifespans will consume more surplus.

The story's protagonist, Hamilton Felix (surname first) is the archetypal superman. Felix possesses a superhuman physique, an intellect to match it, and can expect to live centuries without any form of medical assistance. Authorities aware of his genetic makeup consider him to be the most advanced human in existence - the "star line." However, he lacks eidetic memory, which disqualifies him for what many consider to be humanity's most important occupation: that of an "encyclopedic synthesist," one who analyzes the sum total of human knowledge for untapped potential. As such, he finds his life - and the society he lives in - to be enjoyable but meaningless. However, when one of these synthesists seeks him out, inquiring when he plans to continue his line, he finds himself drawn into an adventure which not only gives him purpose but convinces him that his society is worth saving after all.

Tropes used in Beyond This Horizon include:

  • Designer Babies: Gamete selection technology is routinely used to create the "best possible" child a pair of parents could potentially conceive. Naturally occurring conceptions are unusual, and the people born from them are regarded as inferior and suffer from discrimination.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Subverted. The world government genetically engineers everybody for maximum genetic perfection (or, at least, elimination of imperfection), except for a carefully guarded population of "control naturals," and strongly encourages particularly hopeful genetic matches, as between the hero and heroine. The subversion is that this is presented as entirely a good thing. (This society is sometimes described as a "socialist" state but bears more in common with Technocracy. Everybody gets a small annual dividend from the output of the whole global economy as if it were a corporation in which all are stockholders; control naturals get a larger dividend, enough for a livable income, in compensation for their genetic inferiority and inability to compete with the average person.)
  • Mary Suetopia: The world is "perfect", but a few people feel they should be in charge and that society has never given them the credit they deserve. Our hero fights them to preserve the utopia. Interesting, in that this early work of his has the "best" people working, but attaches no stigma to not working and the government gives out money to everyone, so you don't have to work - the society is a representation of everything that is good about socialism.
    • Note that the "perfect" society is both violent and sexist - men are expected to carry guns, and duel with them over minor insults. A woman who carries a gun, however, is regarded as rather odd.
  • Zeerust: A request is made for a "four-dimensional cam" for a computer - making it obvious that the computer is an analog computer, and implying the digital computer (which can be programmed for n-dimenstional math) was never invented in this history.